Jaws: James Bond’s Greatest Adversary

Jaws: James Bond’s Greatest Adversary

jaws - james bond greatest villain

Midway through Moonraker, James Bond (Roger Moore) and Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) board a tram to take them to the bottom of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. A certain towering and infamous henchman disrupts their journey by jamming the tram’s gears in the engine room. When James Bond climbs out of the tram to get a better view, the henchman bites through the cable with his steel-belted teeth and boards another tram heading towards our stalled hero.

“I might have guessed,” Bond says.

Goodhead responds, “Do you know him?”

“Not socially. His name’s Jaws. He kills people.”

In another moment, Jaws appears opposite Bond on the other tram car. The two exchange knowing smiles before engaging in high-wire fisticuffs over the Guanabra Bay.

James Bond and Jaws smile on the Moonraker tram

Bond’s line “His name’s Jaws. He kills people.” serves as a perfect introduction for 007’s most formidable and only repeat non-Blofeld adversary. After all, this is also all the audience knows about Jaws as well. No backstory. No circuitous ties to Bond’s past. Only murder and the relentless pursuit of James Bond. He’s succeeded in dispatching all of his targets (Bond excepted, of course), often brutally. In The Spy Who Loved Me he quite literally bit a man to death.

Audiences love to hate a great villain. From these conflicted emotions emerges a conundrum. The audience secretly hopes that neither our hero nor our villain will ever truly be beaten. We come to love the pursuit more than the hope or expectation of victory.

 

Jaws, an Origin Story

James Bond has always fought a colorful cast of villains. While the smooth and sophisticated British agent of espionage remains the face of the franchise, the Bond movies have always relied heavily on the creative guile and menace of Bond’s adversaries. A great James Bond film must have great villains.

Goldfinger (1964) has long been a series benchmark, but look at the film more closely. James Bond makes a series of unfortunate decisions that lead to his repeated capture and exploitation. He’s not even directly responsible for saving the day — that job fell to Pussy Galore. But we gloss over Bond’s failures and the film’s narrative vagaries because Goldfinger boasts the series’ most iconic pair of baddies in Auric Goldfinger and his henchman, the hat-tossing Oddjob. It’s James Bond’s cat and mouse game between these two villains that makes the film an essential. Also, Pussy Galore. But we’re here to talk about specific villainy, not about single entendres.

To trace the roots of Jaws (played by the late Richard Kiel), one must start with that imposing Korean (Japanese wrestler Harold Sakata). Aside from his skill at tossing a metal-rimmed bowler hat, Oddjob also proves to be an unstoppable physical presence. When he and Bond do battle in the Fort Knox finale, Oddjob throws Bond around like a rag doll. Bond tosses a gold brick that bounces off the henchman’s chest like Styrofoam. A block of wood to his face results only in a wry smile. It’s clear that Bond cannot best Oddjob physically. Bond instead defeats Oddjob by testing the brute’s knowledge of electrical resistivity and conductivity.

oddjob electrocuted

Spoiler alert: Oddjob skipped that week in AP Physics.

The kind of cartoonish superhuman physical prowess displayed by Oddjob would not return to the Bond series until 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the debut of Jaws as Karl Stomberg’s hired assassin. Jaws showcases the same immunity to physical pain, the same brand of insurmountable strength displayed by Oddjob in Goldfinger. Like Oddjob, Jaws also does not speak – at least until the very end of Moonraker, but we’ll return to that in a moment. Jaws also one-ups Oddjob in the iconic prop department. Instead of an aerodynamic bowler hat, Jaws comes pre-packaged with steel teeth. Less old-timey class, more immediate medieval menace.

jaws - the spy who loved me

 

The Value of Henching

“Every good villain has a good henchman, of course. The most memorable of all has to be Jaws, as played by my good friend Richard Kiel.” Roger Moore, My Word is My Bond

In the Bond universe, the main villains, as the brains of the operation, employ henchmen to do their dirty work. While they scheme and manipulate from remote, secluded lairs and fortresses safely removed from confrontation, the hired henchmen confront Bond on the frontlines. Bond henchmen come in all packages, from the 3’10” Nick Nack (Herve Villachaize in The Man with the Golden Gun) to the 7’2″ Jaws, from voodoo loa Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder in Live and Let Die) to the erotophonophliac Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen in GoldenEye).

famke janssen onatopp

Just an excuse to post a picture of Famke Janssen in GoldenEye. (1995).

In general, Bond villains are maniacal erudites with aim of inciting global chaos. While the broad modus operandi of the primary villain rarely wavers, their henchmen take on varying degrees of creative eccentricity. In only a few of instances during the series’ half-century run, has the villain overshadowed his caricatural henchmen — especially during Roger Moore’s tenure as James Bond, when producers became increasingly more inventive, freed from the creative restrictions of Ian Fleming’s original texts. There’s nothing inherently entertaining about rote hyper-intellectualism (Moonraker‘s Drax proves to be the most notable exception); therefore, the henchmen, as the front line of defense against James Bond, become the means by which the series innovates villainy.

Bond must overcome both intellectual and physical obstacles. The henchmen function not only as an immediate menace and physical threat to 007, but also the ways by which the series differentiates between base coat primary villains in the traditional Bond formula. Case in point: if someone asks you to rank your 10 Favorite Bond villains, how many on your list are primary villains and how many are henchmen?

 

Jaws’ Popularity Paradox

Jaws proved to be so big and so bad that Cubby Broccoli rewrote the end of The Spy Who Loved Me to allow Jaws to return in a future entry. Originally, Richard Kiel’s 7’ 2” Jaws was to have drowned at the end of that film; instead Jaws pops up from the ocean, untarnished, and keeps swimming. Roger Moore remembers vividly that the audience at the premiere of The Spy Who Loved Me cheered when Jaws rose up from the water. He said, “That raised a round of applause… especially from the youngsters.”

jaws - the spy who loved me

Jaws (Richard Kiel) confronts Agent XXX (Barbara Bach) in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Obviously, nobody in the audience would have wished for the demise of James Bond, but the notion that this spectacular adversary would live to fight Bond another day excited moviegoers. He had been Bond’s combative equal. Though Bond had won the day, he could not best Jaws. Due to Cubby’s tremendous foresight regarding Jaws’ potential popularity, The Spy Who Loved Me provided the opportunity for a return trip, but it also created a logistical problem for the James Bond creative team.

Jaws could not become a permanent fixture, yet The Spy Who Loved Me and the first half of Moonraker had suggested Bond could never ultimately defeat him. (He fell 10,000 feet into a circus tent and walked away!) They also didn’t want Jaws to meet his demise at the hands of Bond. The “youngsters” would certainly be disappointed. As a result, Moonraker employs an infamous shift in character — Jaws not only turns against Drax, his boss, in order to help James Bond but he does so for the love of a bespectacled girl in pigtails. For the record: she doesn’t have braces.

Jaws and his new love in Moonraker

For many Bond fans, this 180-degree shift in character from indomitable villain — to gooey love muffin became an unforgivable offense. Undermining the character of Jaws in this manner was like making Darth Vader retire from the Empire in order to join the ASPCA. When audiences cheered for Jaws’ survival, they could not have imagined this particular outcome. Most Bond fans ameliorate this disappointment by treating the Jaws of The Spy Who Loved Me and the Jaws of Moonraker as two different characters. How else can one assimilate unconscionable evildoing and towering slapstick clowning into the same character?

Jaws Lives On

For better and worse, the Bond franchise has been a slave to popular opinion since its rise to blockbuster status. Moonraker stands as a testament to the dark underbelly of writing and creating cinema based purely on anticipated audience demand. Bond producers wanted to capitalize on the Star Wars phenomenon. Hence Bond in space. Likewise, Bringing Jaws back in Moonraker strictly for the fans, rather than letting him swim off into the sunset, created a no-win scenario. Unless you discuss Jaws with the children of 1979.

Criticizing Moonraker or Moonraker‘s rebranding of Jaws perpetuates a prosaic argument. Accepting the film as an exercise in testing the outer boundaries of the Bond formula, however, becomes rather liberating. The murderous henchman named Jaws remained in the world of The Spy Who Loved Me — the baddie that carries out executions without remorse, the towering, immovable mass of humanity that easily could have been the end of James Bond. But as we well know that’s not quite the end of the Jaws story.

One of the most certifiably bonkers moments in all of James Bond. The murderous giant rushes to embrace the love of his life.

Jaws utters his one sentence at the end of Moonraker. When he says to his new girlfriend, “Well, here’s to us,” we’ve witnessed the complete dismantling of James Bond’s indomitable foe. James Bond would certainly approve that Jaws had given up the chase for a girl. However false this outcome feels to the objective viewer, it falls in line with the Moonraker carnival of absurdities.

Moonraker was made, in part, for those kids that cheered Jaws’ survival. While it’s easy to dismiss the value of such absurd escapism, it’s much harder as a cynical adult to embrace the wide-eyed optimism where anything becomes possible — where a beloved but murderous assassin falls in love, gets the girl and helps Bond saves the day. As a result, Jaws accepted a certain duality that made him both terrible and lovable. Richard Kiel’s character endures now more viscerally because Jaws has become both classic villain and lasting childhood nostalgia.

Jaws - Great Villain Blogathon 2017

#HoorayForBond_age_! A Personal and Oral History of #Bond_age_

The Spy Who Loved Me - Roger Moore and Barbara Bach

#HoorayForBond_age_! – A Personal And Oral History of #Bond_age_

by Krissy Myers

I’ve decided to entitle my love letter to an awkward as hell hashtag with one that is equally unusual. A tag that is perhaps somewhat indecipherable by anyone that has never joined me in a #Bond_age_ livetweet. Allow me to explain.

When I first discovered #Bond_age_, it was in its infancy. Jay Patrick was still using tumblr to post his essays. Being in the throws of my initial rekindling of my love for all things Bond, Tumblr was (and still is) the natural habitat for the fan that wished to go from the realm of casual interest into the territory of the true obsessive. I was ready. I was RIPE. Jay wrote his essays with a certain level of literacy that was lacking in most articles about Bond outside of conventional sources for film critique. When I discovered that Jay was hosting a livetweet for my favourite Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, also known around these parts as #TSWLM, I decided to join.

I was welcomed immediately and warmly. Jay was a great host and the other tweeters were smart and funny. They had clearly been familiar with my favourite television series, Mystery Science Theater 3000. I had found my people. During my first livetweet, I decided to coin my own hashtag: #HoorayForSexism. It was to annotate my own observations about the light-hearted and casual misogyny in an equally nonchalant way. At the time, my tweets probably seemed casual, too, but I must admit that it was also a bit of a litmus test.

Even though plenty of ladies were to be found in Bond movies, women in the fandom that celebrates all things 007 were (and still are) uncommon. Mainly due to the misogyny I (a woman) was mocking. Yet, rather than be ostracized and labeled as an uptight feminazi I’m sure I would have been in other circles, my lighthearted riffing was not only embraced, but encouraged.

This was the quality, above all else, that made #Bond_age_ stand out to me as a community. My contributions were taken seriously. It was the first time I felt that I had found a space where I could be blunt and honest about my opinions on not just Bond, but on any film. #HoorayForSexism became one of the very first #bond_age_ memes. It became as much a part of our vernacular as “the peppers,” #PartyMoore and #pewpewpew that was born in #Moonraker a week later. It was the dawn of #Bond_age_ as it’s known today. The fact that there was an entire podcast dedicated to #Bond_age_ memes alone speaks volumes about its effectiveness as a community and the subcultural aspects that naturally evolved due to dedicated member involvement. We were the goth kids, the punk rockers, the ravers and v a p o r w a v e r s of Bond fandom at large.

Naturally, with #Bond_age_ Grand Poobah Jay being a savvy sort, these memes started to permeate his original series of essays for all of the Bond films. The tweets started to shape the meatier and more intellectual content of #Bond_age_. Like all good comedy, the jokes lent themselves to the genesis of a greater conversation. The “My Favourite #Bond_age_” Series was born and regular #Bond_age_ tweeters were promoted to essayists, myself included. Being the High Priestess of all things Roger Moore, I wrote two pro-Party Moore articles for the series – one for my previously mentioned favourite #TSWLM and one for For Your Eyes Only, aka #FYEO. Each of the writers got to host (or co-host) their own livetweet for each film they wrote for. Then once #Bond_age_Pod came into production, myself and others took the lead in conversation more often than not. #Bond_age_TV content has very little content and input from Jay at all, especially my own spinoff series for The Prisoner. The fact that Jay allowed other members of #Bond_age_ to have their stage time was really telling. Like all good leaders, he knew when to step back and let others take charge and speak their mind.

On a personal level, writing those two My Favourite #Bond_age_ essays (along with my article on Patrick McGoohan and Danger Man) was extremely gratifying to me, as they were the first serious pieces of film writing I’d penned since film school. It gave me a new outlet for others — Bond fan, Prisoner fan and layperson alike — to see my writing. Other people, other WOMEN in particular, became interested in the spy genre because #Bond_age_ provided me with a satellite to transmit my passion. It fostered growth, confidence and even job opportunities and professional networking in my personal life. That’s right, I’ve made ACTUAL MONEY because of #Bond_age_.

Most importantly, though, #Bond_age_ has enriched and forged friendships new and old. If it weren’t for my discovery of #Bond_age_, I would have never met or befriended people like #Bond_age_TV cohort Greg McCambley, the other wonderful #Bond_age_ regulars, Aaron Reynolds of Bat Labels and Swear Trek and countless other people known in the Comic Book and Entertainment industries. These relationships have played an integral part in my development as an individual and made my life better.

But most important of all, I must extend my most sincere thanks to Jay Patrick. In the four years I’ve had the pleasure of your online acquaintance, you have been something of brother to me. Words cannot express how much I owe to you and your project. Thank you for always being there for me when I needed someone to talk to. Thank you for always taking me seriously. It means a lot to me as a woman and as a person. If we ever get a chance to meet in person, please don’t be surprised if I hug you so tightly you pass out.

Thank you for everything and #HoorayForBond_age_!

Love,
Krissy Myers
(#HoorayForSexism Expert)

#Bond_age_versary 4 – The SPECTRE Live Tweet

#Bond_age_ 4th anniversary

 

#Bond_age_ turns 4! It’s the #Bond_age_versary!

To celebrate the special occasion we’re finally live tweeting Spectre! 

I know that probably seems counterintuitive considering my opinions about the film. After all, they’ve been well documented here and here and here and here. One official #Bond_age_ essay, a review, and two podcasts. That’s a whole lot of anti-Spectre material I’ve put out into the world. And that’s not even counting my anti-Sam Smith maniacal ravings. In a way, Spectre‘s been a gift to #Bond_age_. That “way” is backwards and convoluted and only makes sense in the world of online riffing, but it’s true. We’d become complacent here at #Bond_age_.

The Craig era has offered us — and opinions will differ, of course — one truly great and two solid entries into the 24-film canon. Even if you’re in an anti-Craig, Quantum, or Skyfall camp, you have to admit that there’s very little truly great fodder in that film for mockery or bemusement.  There’s certainly no “These bubbles tickle my Tchaikovsky!” moments. This brings us to Spectre, a veritable cornucopia of missteps and narrative stupidity. Some may have been entertained, but entertained or not, I charge you with pointing out the film’s flaws and admitting to the world that shooting down a helicopter with a pee-shooter pistol from a speedboat is dumb. It’s just dumb!

I love to hate Spectre. And now we all get the chance to spew our affection and/or #facepalm and/or hatred onto the Interwebs with reckless abandon. I return to the notion that Spectre is a gift, not a curse. Though, perhaps it is both.

The last couple months at #Bond_age_ have brought our little live tweet organization some hardships. The #Bond_age_ family has had its share of loss and disappointment in 2016. As a result of some of these life interruptions and challenges, we’ve dropped from three hosts to one. The hosting duties have fallen squarely on me… and there have been some unfortunate gaps in programming as I’ve tried to keep up.

So that brings me to the heart-to-heart portion of this post. After #Bond_age_versary 4, I’ve considered hanging up the #Bond_age_ tuxedo. I pour so much of my time into this particular endeavor that many other things have suffered. In 2012, I fancied #Bond_age_ a brief 23-week respite from my then labored fiction-writing process. I’d worked on a novel for a year and I felt angry and frustrated.

The #Bond_age_ exercise turned into a 100,000 word manuscript and 200+ weeks later, here we are. We’ve live tweeted all Bond films at least three times (except Spectre, of course). 40+ Bond imposters. Selections from many of our favorite TV shows including The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Remington Steele and The Avengers. The entire series of The Prisoner. Plus some odds and ends. I don’t know if this counts as an “accomplishment” per say, but it feels like something.

#Bond_age_ has forged many new friendships — many of which extend beyond the realm of the online sphere. I’m grateful for each and every person that’s contributed to #Bond_age_ through live tweets and My Favorite #Bond_age_ writeups and even offhand conversations on Twitter. #Bond_age_ is #Bond_age_ because of you. I just keep the lights on.

Quite honestly, I don’t know what 2017 will bring for #Bond_age_. This year has been so disheartening on so many levels, personally and professionally. Over the next few weeks I’ll figure out the place James Bond and #Bond_age_ will have in our lives in 2017, but for right now I want to focus on this celebratory, commemorative, happy-time occasion. #Bond_age_ turns 4. That’s reason to celebrate and enjoy the moment…

…with the live tweet of Spectre, for all the goddamn marbles.

 

spectre live tweet

 

We live tweet SPECTRE, on Wednesday December 7th @ 9pm ET. Follow #Bond_age_ hashtag.

 

The Vesper Martini: Casino Royale

casino royale vesper

 

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.

Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

—Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, Chapter 7, “Rouge et Noir’

 

Later in the novel, after Bond first meets Vesper, he asks to borrow the name. And thus the Vesper martini was born in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. But before you run off to make the perfect Vesper for your Casino Royale 10th Anniversary parties, let’s dwell on some details. Preferably details that will make you sound incredibly snobbish at gatherings, am I right?

Fleming’s friend Ivar Bryce first concocted the recipe for the Vesper martini in the early 1950’s. Since then, however, the ingredients are no longer Bryce’s.  If you search for the recipe, you’ll note many variations of the drink. I’ve collected a dozen slightly different variations on the original — and yes, I’ve made and tried them all.

 

Ian Fleming Casino Royale

 

Let’s start with the basics as detailed by Fleming.

The Vesper Martini (from Casino Royale):

 

3oz Gordon’s gin

1oz vodka

1/2oz Kina Lillet

 

Shake all ingredients. Strain into a martini glass and add a lemon twist.


 

Gordon’s gin is not Gordon’s gin. North American Gordon’s is mixing gin, sold by the barrel. It tastes accordingly like swill. Even the superior British Gordon’s has been reformulated to 75 proof from the original 94.6. (A 94.6 proof Gordon’s Export gin exists out there in the wild, but I’ve not yet had the pleasure of procuring a bottle for Vesper sampling.)

Likewise, the vodka Fleming would have used was 100-proof, whereas the vodka currently in your cabinet is likely a 90. Though, this is merely a note for obsessives or people who want to find themselves under the table a little faster. But there is a reason for the high alcohol content of the drink. The shaking produces a greater dilution. If you find yourself with lower proof vodka, dare I say, you might consider stirring your Vesper — which would actually more align with Bond’s stated wish for a drink that is cold. Stirring actually creates the colder drink.

Now the main reason for so many modern Vesper martini variations. Kina Lillet removed quinine from the drink in 1986 and became merely Lillet or Lillet Blanc. The Lillet sold in stores today is most definitely not a straight substitute for Fleming’s Kina Lillet. Modern Lillet is sweeter and doesn’t have enough bite to rise above 3 measures of gin. It never stood a chance.

 

casino royale vesper martini

 

All that said, here’s my current preferred formulation, including liquors of choice.

007hertzrumble’s Vesper Martini:

 

2.5oz gin (Tanqueray 10)

1.0oz vodka (Stoli Blue label – 100 proof)

1/2oz Cocchi Americano

splash of lemon juice or even Lillet (each balanced the drink in different ways)

 

Shake all ingredients. Strain into a martini glass and add a lemon twist.


 

My preferred gin for martinis has become Tanqueray 10. I find it smoother than the other regular, commercially available gins. Don’t get fancy with your gin in this drink. Find your martini standard and stick with it. For vodka authenticity I stick with the 100-proof Stoli Blue label, but you probably won’t notice the difference between 90 and 100 unless you’re sipping side-by-side.

Replace the extinct Kina Lillet with Cocchi Americano, an Italian apertif wine that contains quinine. In case you’re concerned about never actually finishing that bottle of Cocchi Americano, look up the recipe for a Corpse Reviver #2. You’ll finish the bottle. (You can also try Lillet with two drops of bitters as a substitute, but I wasn’t fond of the bitters and Lillet combo.)

About that splash of lemon juice/Lillet. I hate to say this, but after trying to perfect the Vesper recipe over the last couple years, I’ve concluded that the Vesper is a challenging beverage. And by challenging, I mean it’s quite abrasive. And perhaps this is for the best because more than two of these and you’ll be buggered. The splash of lemon or Lillet sweetens the package just enough. Too much, however, and the drink tastes really confused. It’s a fine line between perfection and a straight up kerfuffle.

For a sweeter version, remove the Cocchi and just add 2/3oz of Lillet and the splash of lemon to give the flavor a fighting chance. Adjust as necessary.

 

Daniel Craig sipping a martini in Casino Royale

 

Still, despite the barriers to entry, I’ve come to enjoy these martini half-breeds. Partly because I’m a Bond enthusiast and partly because I find the perfect Vesper slightly elusive. I’ve made a few great ones at home and had one perfect Vesper martini at a French restaurant — which swapped the gin and vodka ratios (3:1 vodka to gin) and used extra Lillet… which I’ve also attempted at home.

 

Here’s my best attempt at the inversion.

007herzrumble’s Inverted Vesper martini:

 

3oz vodka (Belvedere or Grey Goose)

1oz gin (Tanqueray 10)

2/3oz Lillet

 

 

Stir (blasphemy!) — no really, stir — all ingredients in the shaker. Strain into a martini glass and add a lemon twist.


 

A personal warning — never — never ever ever ever drink more than 2 Vespers of any variety. If you need a refresher about how to make a standard, straight up dry martini, here’s a YouTube video that uses my preferred recipe with a bunch of guys who are mostly less annoying that most YouTube bartenders.

 

 

Cheers.

 

 

John Cleese as R/Q – Guilty By Association

John Cleese’s Unfortunately Brief Tenure as James Bond’s Quartermaster – Guilty By Die Another Day Association

Welcome Monty Python Blogathonners! Despite this piece being commissioned specifically for the Monty Python Blog-a-thon, any discussion about John Cleese’s brief tenure as Bond’s quartermaster must also include a primer on Desmond Llewelyn’s legacy as Q. So that is where we will begin, in 1963 with From Russia with Love, where Q made his first appearance and dispensed an elegantly simple attaché case.

desmond-llewelyn-and-sean-connery-from-russia-with-love-1963

Desmond Llewelyn appeared in more James Bond movies than anyone else. In 17 films from 1963 until 1999, Llewelyn occupied the role of Q, the MI-6 gadget lab quartermaster. Llewelyn played the crotchety uncle to Bond’s loose cannon nephew, always lecturing 007 about his juvenile tendencies.

Change in the Bond cinematic universe is inevitable and tolerated, but only with tremendous resistance. Despite witnessing five (going on six?) 007 makeovers, the public greets every new Bond with side-eye skepticism. So when Desmond Llewelyn’s Q introduced John Cleese as his successor in 1999’s The World is Not Enough, Bond fans, predictably tossed “the young fellow” some side-eye of his own. There had only been one Q, and no actor in the James Bond universe would ever be more beloved than Desmond Llewelyn.

 

John Cleese’s Introduction

Upon introduction, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond quipped, “If you’re Q, does that make him… R?” Eon had the good sense to introduce Cleese as “R” rather than another “Q.” Fans still rallied against the Monty Python vet’s introduction, fearing perhaps that the legendary comedian would turn Q Branch into a slapstick circus. Our first impression of Cleese as R comes with his jacket stuck in the door of a BMW. The slight gag however is not played for slapstick laughs, but rather to re-establish the Q/Bond adversarial candor. Unfortunately for Cleese, screenwriters then saw fit to engulf him in a hamster ball jacket, thus reinforcing our fears about the potential for heightened Q Branch slapstick.

john cleese as R in The World Is Not Enough

The film keeps Cleese in a strict line of succession, continuing the trajectory of the oft-combative relationship between Q and James Bond. Pierce Brosnan’s iteration especially brought out the best in Llewelyn. Take for example when Q details Bond’s BMW and cell phone/remote control in Tomorrow Never Dies. Q appears as an Avis employee and asks a series of questions regarding the various levels of insurance Bond will need on his rental. The moment beautifully plays with our expectations for a Q Branch encounter, but this kind of indirect humor only works with extra-textual information gleaned from many years of cinematic repetition. Note the glee with which Brosnan flaunts his destructive tendencies, strictly for Q’s benefit.

pierce brosnan and desmond llewelyn - tomorrow never dies

Meanwhile, when Q introduces John Cleese’s R in The World is Not Enough, Cleese brought only his ample history to the table as one of Britain’s pre-eminent comic personalities. Many fans believed he shouldn’t tread on Llewelyn’s turf. No matter the reality of time and tide. Someone would eventually have to replace Desmond Llewelyn. Why not Cleese? It seemed right

Pierce Brosnan spoke on behalf of fans everywhere:

Bond: “You’re not retiring anytime soon… are you?”

Q: “Now pay attention, 007. I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.

Bond: “And the second?”

Q: “Always have an escape plan.”

On that final piece of wisdom, Desmond Llewelyn fittingly presses a beep-boop button and lowers himself into the floor, his final goodbye to Bond and Bond fans everywhere. His retirement a bittersweet send-off. Three weeks after the premiere of The World is Not Enough, Desmond Llewelyn died in a car accident.

 

The Unfortunate Future of Die Another Day

Unfortunately for Cleese’s legacy in the James Bond universe, Q/R made his second and final appearance in the much-maligned Die Another Day. The first Bond film after Llewelyn’s passing. The perfect storm of anti-ingratiation culminated by the introduction of James Bond’s invisible car — a regularly-cited scapegoat for all that went wrong in the 20th Bond film. In reality, the Aston Martin Vanquish, retitled “Vanish” for the film, contributed to the most interesting visuals and stunts in the film.

Despite success at the box office, fans regarded Die Another Day as a certifiable stinker. Critics cited that the series had become too beholden to a culturally trending morass of surreal CGI special effects, thus supplanting the old-fashioned stunt-work for which the franchise had formerly been known. Alongside the turnover from Q to R, the Q Branch briefing scene within Die Another Day proves to be a fascinating subject for further dissection.

The scene opens with James Bond cleaning a gun at his desk. He hears a commotion outside in the hall. He steps outside. Slumped bodies, including Moneypenny’s, litter the office. Bond takes out a gaggle of heavily armed assailants one at a time until he reaches M’s office. Here he finds his boss held hostage. He fires one round through her shoulder and into her captor. She falls. Bond empties the clip, sending the evildoer flying. He freezes in midair. R steps forward through a cloud of gun smoke, already lecturing 007 about how a “perfect marksman really shouldn’t shoot his own boss” before removing Bond’s now conspicuous VR sunglasses.

“Check the replay,” Bond says. “You’ll find he’s dead, and she’s just got a flesh wound.”

Die Another Day toys with our perception of reality. Virtual reality had grown into an omnipresent technological buzzword, and Bond must always remain on the cutting edge. This, the movie suggests, is the future of cinema. Limitless scenarios no longer beholden to grounded reality. Just as the theatrical audience had recoiled at this unlimited future, so too does Bond. James goes on. “Give me the old firing range any day, Quartermaster.” To which R says, “Yes, but it’s called the future, so get used to it.”

Two things about this exchange. Bond specifically addresses R as “Quartermaster” here, suggesting the film wanted to avoid referencing John Cleese under his newly assumed role of Q proper (as he is listed in the credits), likely in deference to Llewelyn. Second, you’ll note the irony contained within Die Another Day’s notion of “the future.” We, the modern 2016 audience of this film (and the 2002 audience to a lesser degree), and Bond aligned against the falsehoods of a future guided by virtual experiences. At the time of the film’s release, Die Another Day would have presented Cleese as the mouthpiece for the presumably progressive audience. The future Q/R championed, in fact, turned against him.

die another day q branch

Note the prominently placed alligator mini-submarine from Octopussy.

Furthermore, this conversation about the future takes place while Cleese’s Q and James Bond enter an area used for storing Q Branch “relics.” Bond plays with Rosa Klebb’s spiked shoe from From Russia with Love and the Thunderball jet pack. The audience notes the Acrostar mini-jet and the alligator sub from Octopussy in the background. This is the perpetual labor and challenge of the Bond franchise – cherishing and dwelling on the past while constantly moving forward, advancing technologies, the new faces of 007. John Cleese, vis-á-vis his VR training module, represented the bold step into the digital future of 00-training and, with a little mental leap, the bold new world digital filmmaking. Bond fans only want new if the new can be made to feel old and familiar. Thus, Die Another Day artificially surrounded Bond and Q with a basement full of nudges and winks to Bond’s past.

Through no fault of his own, John Cleese has been judged guilty by association with Die Another Day. By merely aligning with “the future” in the film, he’d been deemed persona non grata by fans and, perhaps, ultimately by the James Bond production team. After the critical failure of Die Another Day, James Bond waited four years to return to theaters in Casino Royale, not coincidentally Ian Fleming’s very first Bond novel, and without the aid of a quirky Q Branch.

john cleese and pierce brosnan die another day

John Cleese, Pierce Brosnan and the invisible Aston Martin “Vanish.”

And now for something completely different…

Eon reacted to Die Another Day’s perceived failures by “rebooting” the franchise and returning to Bond’s roots, to Fleming’s earliest work. In this new Bond film, they did not write a part for a Q Branch quartermaster. Nor would there be room for Q’s “future.” During production, director Martin Campbell said Casino Royale would be “grittier and more realistic” and that they’d be “getting away from the huge visual effects and comic relief.” John Cleese’s Q represented the direct link to elaborate visual effects and comic relief. The future had become the past. Q would not reappear as a character until Skyfall in the form of a quite serious Ben Whishaw.

In the years since Cleese last donned the quartermaster’s lab coat, the comedian has been predictably critical of the Bond franchise’s dour emulation of the Jason Bourne movies and reportedly longs for a return of the British class humor inherent to early incarnations of the character. Cleese speaks for many Bond fans who also wish the series would return to those frivolous adventures filled with humor and unnecessary gadgets. The trick, as ever, would be finding the middle ground. The trick, as ever, would be finding that old familiar sweet spot of humor, adventure and glamour and passing it off as “new” rather than the “future.”

Unfortunately, James Bond never offered Cleese the opportunity to make the role of Q his own. The World Is Not Enough‘s screenwriting team did him a great disservice by punctuating his first scene with a hamster ball pratfall Using some of the curmudgeonly persona he’d perfected in Fawlty Towers or Clockwise would have made him a welcome foil for any James Bond — even one more fully grounded by a measure of reality.

 

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Happy Birthday, Sean Connery!

happy birthday sean connery

 

Happy Birthday, Sean Connery

#Bond_age_ celebrated Sean Connery’s birthday a little early in order to accommodate a screening of ZARDOZ into the live tweet schedule. But it is August 25th that belongs to Slouchy. You’ll find plenty of websites celebrating the big day with facts you didn’t know about Sean Connery or favorite Sean Connery quotes. I struggled to decide how best to celebrate this birthday. We joke about Sean and use the “Slouchy Bond” nickname because it’s fun to joke Sean Connery’s place in the James Bond universe because, well, it’s less interesting to cite Connery as the best Bond.

The fact of the matter is that he is the best Bond. He and Terence Young molded Fleming’s prose into the most famous hero in the world. Later on in his career as Bond, the relationship between the man and the films turned rather sour. I can’t blame him, honestly; the script for You Only Live Twice should have felt like sandpaper between his nether regions.

If you want to learn more about his potential career as a footballer or his rumored encounter with Lana Turner’s gangster boyfriend, I trust you’ll know how to find Wikipedia. Right now, however, I’d rather share an interview from 1964 that still finds Connery talking about the success of James Bond with much respect for the franchise. It seems more fitting for #Bond_age_ to celebrate the life and times of Sir Sean Connery with a moment reflecting the man’s sincerity and intelligence at a moment when everything was right in the world of Bond.

He has a reputation for being a brute in a suit. Sometimes, likely due to his Diamonds Are Forever contract demands, he has the reputation for being a bit of a scrooge or a premadonna. From what I’ve read, it seems more like Sean Connery is a man of principle. He’s true to his beliefs. He’s confident and cocksure, perhaps to a fault. He’s a man who could tell 1000 tales, and we’d listen intently to every single one.

From everyone at #Bond_age_, happy birthday, Sean Connery.

 

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